WikiLeaks makes US look good–and the US government hates it

PoliticalFailBlog has an excellent article about how WikiLeaks is shaping Middle Eastern opinion about America is *gasp* a positive way! WikiLeaks has been condemned as “nothing new” by political sophisticates, “insufficiently un-American” by what PFB defines as the “left”, “without public interest” by what PFB defines as the “right”, and harmful to American interests by government officials. But all these idiots seem to miss is how important these revelations are to people in repressive countries who wouldn’t have this kind of information otherwise.

What these arguments missed was the hunger for the cables in countries that didn’t have fully functioning democracies or the sort of free expression enjoyed in London, Paris or New York. Within hours of the first cables being posted the Guardian started receiving a steady stream of pleading requests from editors and journalists around the world wanting to know what the cables revealed about their own countries and rulers. It was easier to call the revelations unstartling, dull even, if one lived in western Europe, rather than in Belarus, Tunisia, or in any other oppressive regime. [Emphasis added]

People LIKE it when you free information about their government. This is real fuel for ground-up democratic movements. You can convince people that the system needs to be overthrown when even the regime’s partner in weapons trade, the US, complains about them behind the curtain.

Paradoxically the leaked comments by the US ambassador in Tunis, widely read across the region, played a major role in boosting Washington’s image on the Arab street. Ordinary Tunisians liked the way in which the Americans – unlike the French – had so frankly highlighted corruption.

They now wanted the US to support their ongoing jasmine revolution. They asked Washington to exert pressure on neighbouring Arab leaders, and prevent them from interfering.

And how does Washington respond to their newly-earned respectability?

The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, had previously denounced the leak of the cables, because it had “undermined our efforts to work with other countries to solve shared problems”.

This is the “bad America” that the PFB-described “left” might be looking for: the US has the means to provide oppressed people with free information as a basic tool towards their own liberation, but Washington feels this “undermines [their] efforts” because their “efforts” have nothing to with supporting democracy in the Middle East. Their goals are primarily business and political arrangements that work in the US’s favor, which are not necessarily conducive to Egyptian self-determination. “Problems” sometimes include popular democratic movements, or at the very least anti-business-as-usual movements (witness East Timor as a particualrly unpleasant example: 1, 2, 3, pages 9-10)

The anti-government Egyptians see America as a potential ally, since we have all this dirt on Mubarak. But the US has been, and continues to be, a supporter of the regime. Hillary Clinton and the administration (Biden won’t call Mubarak a dictator) don’t want America to actually use its powers for good, like we always go around saying we do. We’d rather let the Middle East have a low, cynical opinion of us than an optimistic one because a cynical view keeps the people’s expectations lower. Fewer moral obligations, a broader amount of screw-up room (if we handle things badly, they’ll just say “Oh, it’s the US, they can’t do anything right, look at Iraq, etc.”). It’s a nasty, somewhat self-loathing attitude for the US to have: we’re ashamed when we are too pro-democracy. Or, as Chris Matthews explained:

They[dictators] want their oldest kid to replace them. And what was the plan for transition for our friend? Did we ever talk to him about it? Did we talk about it, encourage him? That’s my view. Character and planning. And I don’t see–I feel shame about this. I feel ashamed as an American, the way we’re doing this. I know he has to change. I know we’re for democracy, but the way we’ve handled it is not the way a friend handles a matter. We’re not handling as Americans should handle a matter like this. I don’t feel right about it. And Barack Obama, as much I support him in many ways, there is a transitional quality to the guy that is chilling. [Emphasis added]

Yes, Matthews believes that Mubarak, a Dubya ranch hand, is all Obama’s fault because Obama didn’t help our wayward “friend” enough to see the error of his ways. Maybe sending him more teargas would’ve improved his self-esteem enough to not be so much of a bad ol’ dictator anymore. (But if his heart grows 3 sizes bigger, what will he do will all the teargas?)

I believe in relationships. I think we all do. Relationship politics is what we were brought up with in this country. You treat your friends a certain way. You’re loyal to them. And when they’re wrong, you try to be with them. You try and stick with them.

If we give the tyrants BIGGER HUGS, they’ll turn nice! Why didn’t I realize that before??


To contrast the power of information loosened, witness the tragedy of information denied:

Chinese students completely confused by what we think of as an iconic and universal image[, the man standing defiantly in front of tanks in Tainanmen Square]. There are, of course, dissidents in China today who continued to try to keep the truth alive about what actually happened in Tiananmen Square.

But the government there has really effectively maintained the 20-yearlong lie about Tiananmen—a 20-yearlong lie that Tiananmen was no big deal. There certainly wasn‘t anything heroic about it except maybe on the government side. From the government‘s perspective, they say they were criminals and thugs causing chaos and anti-Chinese uprising. The government just had to restore order, that‘s all. They had to.

Transcript here.

(Note: my quotations over PFB’s use of “left” is because I find it increasingly difficult to figure out what people actually mean when they label someone else’s politics as “left” or “right”. For example, the “left” stereotypically hates the US government over foreign policy, but loves it under domestic policy, or at least that tends to be the “right” wing’s way of framing the debate, so presumably they can love the US abroad but hate it at home… See how weird it gets?)


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